Blowing Whistles | Focus TheatreIt’s almost Mardi Gras time again and this year it’s the big three zero. Like any birthday of significant digits there’s always an urge to reflect. Perhaps it’s just a natural part of growing up - we pause to see exactly how far we have come, in order to see where we are heading. But thirty is often the first adult milestone that acts as a wake up call. It rudely arrives to spoil all our childhood fun, grabbing us by the scruff of the neck and shaking us into a new way of seeing ourselves. “Grow up!” it demands. But do we ever really? Do we change? Perhaps a better question would be can we change, or even should we? These are the musings that lie at the heart of Matthew Todd’s pithy and playful comedy Blowing Whistles, which is centred around Nigel (Lindsay Moss) and Jamie (Neil Phipps), a long-term gay couple who we meet on the eve of their tenth anniversary.

Nigel and Jamie are happy and content, or so it appears from their cosy love-nest filled with Ikea furniture. But there are storm clouds brewing; Nigel has developed a fixation with gay dating website ‘Gaydar’, through which he has procured an unlikely anniversary present in the shape of an attractive young stranger, who goes by the promisingly lurid username of Cumboy_17. From the start his partner Jamie doesn’t seem overly keen on the idea - which is odd considering that it’s not like they haven’t done this kind of thing before, after all they are in an open relationship. But interestingly this arrangement is governed by a number of rules that serve to preserve the sanctity of the couple’s union. Through the course of their night with ‘Cumboy’ a.k.a. Mark (Lindsay Farris) a number of these rules will be put to the test, with often hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking results.

This is a fine production, full of plenty of fun and good-humoured stirrings about sex, relationships and being gay in a big city – plus there’s a dash of nudity which adds a little spice. The play has been meticulously adapted by producers Alice Livingstone and Pete Nettell, who have substituted every South London reference with a uniquely Sydney alternative. The result is a piece which feels home-grown and culturally specific. Nigel (Lindsay Moss) and Jamie (Neil Phipps) are incredibly likeable and authentic as the couple. There’s a wonderful jaunty quality to their depictions of gay stereotypes. Jamie is definitely ‘the chick’ in the relationship if you judge him by his fanatical fussing and vacuuming, while Nigel is more ‘the bloke’ with his rugged machismo - but both actors recognise that these are transient moments rather than overriding character markers and forge real individuals who transcend prescriptive labels. The true stand-out performance though is the miraculous Lindsay Farris as Mark a.k.a. Cumboy_17. It’s such a real and natural performance that encapsulates such beautiful and painful truths about being young and gay in a scene that ferociously feeds on the willing and the disposable. Farris is mesmerising in his intensity and vulnerability and for an actor who only started treading the boards in 2002 he is quite remarkable. 

Playwright Matthew Todd’s intuitive understanding of what unites us as human beings rather than what divides us helps this play transcend the ‘gay play’ label and reach for something universal that appeals to both gay and straight audience members. There’s also a willingness and openness in the performances which is a testament to Pete Nettell’s assured direction. He’s encouraged these actors to hold up a mirror to ‘gayness’ in order to explore what it is and what it isn’t without being afraid of the consequences. The Ikean utopia created by set designer Wayne Harris provides the perfect backdrop for these characters, while Spiros Hristias’ lighting design serves to focus our attention on the performances unobtrusively.

Blowing Whistles is a tender, funny and fitting birthday surprise to usher in this year’s Mardi Gras and is deserving of a devoted following be they gay, straight or simply bi-curious in persuasion. Perhaps it will also serve as a reminder to some that while you can have your cake and eat it too, the perils of licking the icing should be addressed if you don’t want to spoil the party.

Focus Theatre presents
By Matthew Todd

Venue: Belvoir St Downstairs Theatre
Dates: 7 February – 2 March 2008 (no performance Parade Night Sat 1)
Times: Tues 7pm (PayWhatYouCan) / Wed – Sat 8.15pm / Sun 5.15pm
Sat Matinees: 16, 23 Feb, 1 Mar 2.15pm
Tickets: $32 full / $29 Mardi Gras members / $27 groups 5+ / $25 conc
Bookings: 02 9699 3444 /

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